A look back

24. Mai 2016 § Hinterlasse einen Kommentar

A week after coming home I need to drastically condense things which went helter-skelter over the last four days of the trip. It started smoothly: I slept like a baby in my cabin on the Cagliari to Palermo ferry. The train across Sicily, the third island on my Mediterranean hop, went smoothly although it was brimming over at first with families on an outing to a fattoria (the young kids were meant to gaze at the farm animals while the adults seemed more intent on eating large chunks out of the beasts braised to perfection).

In Agrigento, all I did was to roll down the hill to the miraculous temple district and spend a good two hours soaking up the antique charms: pillars, architraves, rubble, ramparts, 500-year old olive trees, and so on. The ride to Licata was easy, and I settled down in the best B&B yet, with civilised Chaty and Francesco, who had redecorated an old palace to everyone’s hearts’ content. The best part in this town though was watching and overhearing some Sicilian men playing cards in a very simple neighbourhood bar. In case you ask, yes, I understood the numbers they were sometimes shouting out when counting scores (undici!!!), the rest was pure Sicilian garbling. And a fight I thought would end with daggers drawn. But no, after a few minutes of more shouted numbers it calmed down slowly.

On Sunday, I knew I would have to cycle 120 km to catch the ferry to Malta at 9:30 pm. But I had the whole day, and wasn’t the weather beautiful? A concoction of brazenness, half-understood directions, a bad map and an overdose of optimism (just head in the direction this lovely tailwind blows, I told myself) led to the most stupid thing I’ve ever done on any of these tours. I’m not going to say how many km I sailed in the wrong direction (Northeast instead of Southeast) – anyway it was enough to hit a really remote dead-as-a-doornail, probably Mafia-infested, town with shutters down and garbage blowing around the streets. The low point was being hit on the head by vagrant with a festering arm, the only living being at the dead bus station, who had been pressing me for money (well, I was still wearing the bike helmet, thank you). And the proof that this was a bad, bad town came in the shape of two vans into which an Eastern European family was cramming a dozen suitcases and even more boxes; I asked them where they were going: back to Romania. If people remigrate from Caltagirone to rural Romania, this is definitely the wrong place to be caught in. But there was neither a train nor a bus to get back to the coast, and I was already tired after 70-odd km. Long story short: there was no choice but to go all the way to Pozzallo on two slim wheels, totalling 187 km for the day. Cold comfort: a new record, but I don’t aim to repeat it.

And in Pozzallo, I missed the ferry because my booking hadn’t worked out and the waiting list remained just that, a waiting list. Well, I sneaked into the nearest B&B where they gave me the Marilyn-Monroe-themed honeymoon room, and I zonked out under a pouty kiss mouth…

… only to wake up realising I couldn’t give my scheduled talk at the University of Malta that Monday morning, because a chasm of water separated me from the tiny isle. Long story short, I gave my lecture about multilingualism, language policy and foreign language learning in Switzerland through Skype and a remotely operated Powerpoint presentation. On my smartphone screen, I could see part of the audience (well, a bearded man and the legs of the lady in the front row). There was even a short question session. And on the next day, they did allow me onto the high-speed catamaran, at midnight I did check in at the Grand Harbour Hotel in Valletta’s old town to ruffle the sheets at least for one of the two paid nights, and on Tuesday I managed to meet up with the cheerful ERASMUS coordinator, George Cremona (him being just back from the Eurovision Song Contest in Stockholm, about which he is doing sociolinguistic and cultural research).

It’s a weird old world there in Malta, and after the half-hour whirlwind tour through central Valletta, all I know is I’ll have to come back. 12 hours in Malta is clearly not enough, and I do want to get a closer look at Maltese, the 48th language I (nearly) cycled through. Well, the 13 km to the airport were as dangerous as many hundreds of miles elsewhere in Europe taken together. No one in their right mind rides a bicycle on Malta. Okay, there was a Norwegian couple on the Airbus who had done just that. But … long story short now.

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